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or of states, and thus held in his hand the fortunes and the lives of multitudes of his fellow-creatures, the interest, which he excites will, be immediate and strong: he stands on an eminence where he is the mark of many eyes; and dark and unlettered indeed must be the age in which the incidents of his eventful life will not be noted, and the record of them be preserved for the instruction or the entertainment of unborn generations. But if his course were through the vale of life ; if he were unmingled with the factions and the contests of the great ; if the powers of his mind were devoted to the silent pursuits of literature, to the converse of philosophy and the muse, the possesser of the ethereal treasure may excite little of the attention of his contemporaries; may walk quietly, with a veil over his glories, to the grave; and, in other times, when the expansion of his intellectual greatness has filled the eyes of the world, it may be too late to inquire for his history as a man. The bright track of his genius indelibly remains; but the trace of his mortal footstep is soon obliterated for ever. Homer is now only a name, a solitary name, which assures us, that, at some unascertained period in the annals of mankind, a mighty mind was indulged to a human being, and gave its wonderful productions to the perpetual admiration of men, as they spring in succession in the path of time. Of Homer himself we actually know nothing; and we see only an arm of immense power thrust forth from a mass of impenetrable darkness, and holding up the hero of his song to the applauses of never-dying fame. But it may be supposed that the revolution of, perbaps, thirty centuries has collected the cloud which thus withdraws the father of poësy from our sight. Little more than two centuries has elapsed since William Shakspeare conversed with our tongue, and trod the self-same soil with ourselves; and if it were not for the records kept by our church in its registers of births, marriages and burials, we should at this moment be as personally ignorant of the 'Sweet Swan of Avon” as we are of the old minstrel and rhapsodist of Meles. That William Shakspeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon ; that he married and had three children; that he wrote a certain number of dramas ; that he died before he had attained to old age, and was buried in his native town, are positively the only facts, in the personal history of this extraordinary man, of which we are certainly possessed : and, if we should be solicitous to fill up this bare and most unsatisfactory outline, we must have recourse to the vague reports of unsubstantial tradition, or to the still more shadowy inferences of lawless

and vagabond conjecture. Of this remarkable ignorance of one of the most richly endowed with intellect of the human species who ran his mortal race in our country, and who stands separated from us by no very great intervention of time, the causes may not be so difficult to be ascertained. William Shakspeare was an actor and a writer of plays; in neither of which characters, however he might excel in them, could he be lifted high in the estimation of his contemporaries. He was honoured, indeed, with the friendship of nobles, and the patronage of monarchs ; his theatre was frequented by the wits of the metropolis, and he associated with the most intellectual of his times. But the spirit of the age was against him; and in opposition to it, he could not become the subject of any general or comprehensive interest. The nation, in short, knew little and cared less about him. During his life and for some years after his death, inferior dramatists outran him in the race of popularity ; and then the flood of puritan fanaticism swept him and the stage together into temporary oblivion. On the restoration of the Monarchy and the theatre, the school of France perverted our taste, and it was not till the last century was somewhat advanced that William Shakspeare arose again as it were, from the tomb, in all his proper majesty of ligbt. He then became the subject of solicitous and learned inquiry; but inquiry was then too late; and all that it could recover, from the ravage of time, were only a few human fragments which could scarcely be united into a man. To these causes of our personal ignorance of the great bard of England, must be added his own strange indifference to the celebrity of genius. When he had produced his admirable, works ignorant or heedless of their value, he abandoned them with perfect indifference to oblivion or to fame. It surpassed his thought that he could grow into the admiration of the world; and, without any reference to the curiosity of future ages, in which he could not conceive himself to possess an interest, he was contented to die in the arms of obscurity, as an unlaurelled burgher of a provincial town. To this combination of causes are we to attribute the scantiness of our materials for the life of William Shakspeare. His works are in myriads of hands ; he constitutes the delight of myriads of readers; his renown is coextensive with the civilization of man; and, striding across the ocean, from Europe, it occupies the wide region of transatlantic empire ; but he is himself only a shadow which disapoints our grasp; an undefined form which is rather intimated than discovered to the keenest searchings of our eyes i... On

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the 30th of June, 1564, when our poet had not been three months in this breathing world, his native Stratford was visited by the plague; and, during the six succeeding months, the ravaging disease is calculated to have swept to the grave more than a seventh part of the whole population of the place. But the favoured infant reposed in security in his cradle, and breathed health amid an atmosphere of pestilence. The disease, indeed, did not overstep his charmed threshold; for the name of Shakspeare is not to be found in the register of deaths throughout that period of accelerated mortality. That he survived this desolating calamity of his townsmen, is all that we know of William Shakspeare from the day of his birth till he was sent, as we are informed by Rowe, to the Free School of Stratford ; and was stationed there in the course of his education, till, in consequence of the straightened circumstances of his father he was recalled to the paternal roof. . . . . Ben Jonson, who must have been intimately conversant with his friend's classical acquisitions, tells us expressly that, “ he had small Latin and less Greek.” But according to the usual plan of instruction in our schools, he must have traversed a considerable extent of the language of Rome, before he could touch even the confines of that of Greece. He must, in short, have read Ovid's Metamorphoses, and a part at least of Virgil, before he could open the grammar of the more ancient, and copious, and complex dialect. This I conceive to be a fair statement of the case in the question respecting Shakspeare's learning. Beyond controversy he was not a scholar; but he had not profited so little by the hours which he had passed in school, as not to be able to understand the more easy Roman authors without the assistance of a translation. If he himself had been asked on the subject, he might have parodied his own Falstaff and have answered, “Indeed I am not a Scaliger or a Budæus, but yet no blockhead, friend." I believe also that he was not wholly unacquainted with the popular languages of France and Italy. He had abundant leisure to acquire them; and the activity and the curiosity of his mind were sufficiently strong to urge him to their acquisition. But to discuss this much agitated question would lead me beyond the limits which are prescribed to me; and, contenting myself with declaring that, in my opinion, both parties are wrong, both they who contend for our poet's learning, and they who place his illiteracy on a level with that of John Taylor, the celebrated water-poet, I must resume my humble and most deficient narrative. The classical studies of William Shakspeare, whatever progress he may or

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may not have made in them, were now suspended; and he was replaced in his father's house, when he had attained his thir. teenth or fourteenth year, to assist with his hand in the main. tenance of the family. Whether he continued in this situation whilst he remained in his single state, has not been told to us, and cannot therefore at this period be known. But in the absence of information, conjecture will be busy; and will soon cover the bare desert with unprofitable vegetation. Whilst Malone surmises that the young poet passed the interval, till his marriage, or a large portion of it, in the office of an attorney, Aubrey stations him during the same term at the head of a country school. But the surmises of Malone are not universally happy; and to the assertions of Aubrey I am not disposed to attach more credit than was attached to them by Anthony Wood, who knew the old gossip, and was competent to appre. ciate his character. It is more probable that the necessity, which brought young Shakspeare from his school, retained him with his father's occupation (which was that of a wool-driver. if it was not that of a glover) at home, till the acquisition of a wife made it convenient for him to remove to a separate habi. tation. ... In 1582, before he had completed his 18th year, he married Anne Hathaway, the daughter, as Rowe informs us, of a substantial yeoman in the neighbourhood of Stratford. We are unacquainted with the precise period of their marriage, and with the church in which it was solemnized, for in the register of Stratford there is no record of the event; and we are made certain of the year in which it occurred, only by the baptism of Susanna, the first produce of the union, on the 26th of May, 1583. As young Shakspeare neither increased his fortune by this match, though he probably received some money with his wife, nor raised himself by it in the community, we may conclude that he was induced to it by inclination, and the impulse of love. But the youthful poet's dream of happiness does not seem to have been realized by the result. The bride was eight years older than the bridegroom; and whatever charms she might possess to fascinate the eyes of her boy-lover, she probably was deficient in those powers which are requisite to impose a durable fetter on the heart, and to hold “in sweet captivity” a mind of the very highest order. No charge is intimated against the lady: but she is left in Stratford by her husband during his long residence in the metropolis ; and on his death, she is found to be only slightly, and, as it were, casually remembered in his will... "Ivoured, however, as our poet seems to have been, by

Elizabeth, and notwithstanding the fine incense which he offered to her ranity, it does not appear that he profited in any degree by her bounty. She could distinguish, and could smile upon genius : but unless it were immediately serviceable to her per. sonal or her political interests, she had not the soul to reward it. However inferior to her in the arts of government, and in some of the great characters of mind might be her Scottish successor, he resembled her in his love of letters, and in his own cultivation of learning. He was a scholar, and even a poet: his attachment to the general cause of literature was strong; and his love of the drama and the theatre was particu. larly warm. Before his accession to the English throne he had written, as we have before noticed, a letter, with his own hand, to Shakspeare, acknowledging, as it is supposed, the compliment paid to him in the noble scenes of Macbeth; and scarcely had the crown of England fallen upon his head, when he granted his royal patent to our poet, and his company of the Globe ; and thus raised them from being the Lord Chamberlain's servants to be the servants of the King. The patent is dated on the 19th of May, 1603, and the name of William Shakspeare stands second on the list of the patentees. As the demise of Elizabeth had occurred on the 24th of the preceding March, this early attention of James to the company of the Globe, may be regarded as highly complimentary to Shakspeare's theatre, and as strongly demonstrative of the new sovereign's partiality for the drama. But James' patronage of our poet was not in any other way beneficial to his fortunes. If Elizabeth was too parsimonious for an effective patron, by his profusion on his pleasures and his favourites, James soon became too needy to possess the means of bounty for the reward of talents and of learning. Honour, in short, was all tbat Shakspeare gained by the favour of two successive sovereigns, each of them versed in literature, each of them fond of the drama, and each of them capable of appreciating the transcendency of his genius. It would be especially gratifying to us to exhibit to our readers some portion at least of the personal history of this illustrious man during his long residence in the capital ; . . . to announce the names and characters of his associates, a few of which only we can obtain from Fuller; to delineate his habits of life ; to record his convivial wit; to commemorate the books which he read ; and to number his compositions as they dropped in succession from his pen. But no power of this nature is indulged to us. All that active and efficient portion of his mortal existence, which constituted con


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